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Mar 22, 2024

Dragon’s Dogma 2 Review

Lights Off
5 Incredible
Retails for: $69.99
We Recommend: $69.99
  • Developer: CAPCOM
  • Publisher: CAPCOM
  • Genre: RPG, Action
  • Released: Mar 21, 2024
  • Platform: Windows, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5
  • Reviewed: Windows

I bounced off of the first Dragon’s Dogma pretty hard. All of the right elements of a game that I would enjoy were there, but trying to bite off something new and different and challenging at a time when I was raising two brand new humans and always massively sleep deprived wasn’t a good fit. So it goes. I’ve had a new opportunity to try again with the sequel while at a much more conducive time and place in life, and for a variety of reasons, Dragon’s Dogma 2 clicked with me instantly, and it was almost immediately apparent that the hype around it was well deserved.

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I generally enjoy offbeat or otherwise quirky games, especially when it comes to RPGs, a genre in which it has become difficult to find innovation over the past ten years as the general philosophy about how to design large scale RPGs has largely homogenized, thanks in no small part to Bethesda’s success with Skyrim and Fallout. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is decidedly not Skyrim, nor is it Dark Souls, nor is it really anything else you’ve played, which is precisely why it deserves your attention and why it lands so well with me.

In many respects, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is built on familiar parts of the overall RPG oeuvre. The things you expect to find in an RPG are all here; Vocations, Dragon’s Dogma’s take on the Job system; melee, ranged, and magic combat; experience points and levels; items, equipment and encumbrance; large sweeping areas with beautiful vistas and hidden paths to explore; oppressive imperial regimes, partially destroyed villages fallen to the wrath of the titular dragon; all manner of fantasy creatures like goblins and harpies and giant lizards that want to beat you senseless, flay you alive, and probably take whatever stuff you have they consider valuable. You know, the usual things.

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The thing is, every one of those familiar aspects exists as Dragon’s Dogma 2’s unique interpretation of how that particular mechanic or system should work, and that makes for a fairly different offering from other games in the same category when Dragon’s Dogma 2’s entire design thesis boils down to “What if we give the player systems to learn and let them figure out how things work instead of making everything as easy as a single button press?” The streamlining and rough-edge sanding and over Quality-of-Lifing that has taken over the design of RPGs over the past ten years has been largely ignored here, deliberately so, and frankly I think the game is better and more enjoyable for it.

To be clear, Dragon’s Dogma 2 is not a hard game to learn or to play, but it does expect you to actually spend time poking at it and learning how to play it instead of playing half of the game for you on its own. The brilliance of it is that the game has some great rewards for you if you’re willing to go along with it. For example; fast travel isn’t really a thing in Dragon’s Dogma 2 (it is but not in the way you generally think of it), which is a convenience feature that many of us have come to expect in terms of optimizing our time with games, but there’s good reason for this!

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Dragon’s Dogma 2’s world isn’t just a massive expanse of land to traverse in whatever direction you want; it’s a thoughtfully designed map of paths and places to explore with meaningful rewards waiting along the way, and while it can be a bit repetitive hoofing it back and forth between towns, you would miss out on so many things that are actually worth exploring if you could just fast travel between locations. In this way, you’re encouraged to explore as you journey, and it is always worth your while to do so.

Leveling up your core character improves your stats while leveling up your Vocation provides access to more skills, increasing the scope of what your character can do. There’s depth to the classes that encourage experimentation and different play styles, so that your typical notions about how to play a particular class are upended in some really delightful ways. For example, I was initially underwhelmed with my vocation choice of Archer, as attacking at range felt limited and slow, and the controls for swapping to my modified skills felt awkward at first. As soon as I started unlocking more abilities within the first two hours though, it became extremely fun to play, as my ranged attacks were augmented by darting between enemies to deliver flying kicks to their faces and unleash a midair salvo of arrows at them whilst backflipping away. I wasn’t some bowman on the backline, I was rapidly becoming an agile, arrow spewing, face kicking, trap setting terror, and this is so early on in the class progression it’s just place-setting for what’s to come.

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Similarly, my created pawn, Pomejanette, is a Thief who I expected to be fast and stabby, but she is oh so much more than just your typical rogue. Watching her dart around the battlefield, running actual circles around her prey while her daggers dance and glint in the sunlight, tearing them to shreds, is almost horrifying to behold, and with the added ability to incorporate fire into her attacks I’m concerned she might actually be a sociopath.

The full depth of her vocation’s skill tree is available to unlock alongside my own, and I have to choose between spending points on my abilities or hers as they accumulate, but investing in Pomejanette’s growth is just as important as my own as she is a formidable ally on the battlefield whose bloodlust benefits my efforts directly. Also she likes to collect berries and bugs and enjoys slapping hands after nearly every battle, so really it’d be a shame not to give her the tools she needs to succeed when she’s such a great team player.

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Pawns are an absolutely novel idea to me, and while I know they were a key component of the original game, the fact that the concept hasn’t spread to more games in the same way is frankly astonishing. You get AI-controlled party members that help give you hints about the world around you, learn traits and behaviors from watching you (for better or worse), and they can share that knowledge in other people’s games when they venture off into the rift and get hired by other players. They don’t just feel like your typical AI companions, they’re like a built in hint system and co-op partner with surprisingly unpredictable behavior at times, but always in wonderful and exciting ways while you’re out questing.

I absolutely love Dragon’s Dogma 2’s quest system; specifically the fact that side quests are equally weighted alongside main/story quests, that you can only discover quests by talking to NPCs and seeking them out (there are no golden exclamation points here), and you can only set one quest as your primary to track on the map at a time. Does that make it harder to find quests? Potentially. Does it also mean you can control the flow of quest acceptance for yourself, and take on as much or as little as you prefer? Also yes! Does it enable you to choose your own priority for how to take on objectives? Absolutely! Does it help you avoid becoming overloaded with Things to Do™, especially when taking on too many quests can cause you to start failing those that are time sensitive? Yes, a thousand times yes.

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To me, these are welcome features of a system that does in fact respect both your time and intelligence as a player, and trades out the checklist-driven feeling of overwhelm and dread that is so pervasive in most contemporary RPGs for a system that’s aligned with the overall ethos of Dragon’s Dogma 2; everything you want in a contemporary game is there, but it’s up to you to dig in and find it. The game trusts you to find these things, to learn and explore and to understand the world they’ve set before you. And all of that makes for an incredibly refreshing take on the RPG genre.

I’ve also been stricken by how many small details and considerations are present throughout the game, and how many situational things have been added to make the sense of immersion feel more complete. The possibility space for What Could Happen in Dragon’s Dogma 2 is much greater than what I’m used to seeing thanks to the wide array of character abilities, situational animations and consequences, the way various systems can interact with one another, and the design of the world itself.

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Enemies can be wholesale picked up and thrown like barrels or rocks, your character descends steep areas differently depending on their speed and might lose their balance, your pawn might use a new ability to lasso a giant and pull it to the ground to form a bridge across a narrow chasm or throw you up onto an otherwise unreachable ledge. Elemental effects spread and interact in surprising ways, NPCs scream and run if your weapon is unsheathed in a public space, a group of goblins might kick you off the top of a ladder you’ve just climbed to your death because you were too hasty to check the top for enemies before emerging. A lot of these are details we’ve seen in other games, but I can’t recall a time when so many small details have coexisted in the same space and interacted with each other so thoroughly. Often, the simple act of playing the game is one of exploration and discovery.

The one thing that is already a big part of The Discourse™ though is the game’s performance. Dragon’s Dogma 2 is somewhat demanding, and as many have already discovered across every platform, it’s fairly CPU-bound as a result of the heavy simulation with the game’s many NPCs, especially in cities. While it uses Capcom’s RE Engine to great effect from a visual standpoint, there’s simply more happening under the hood that will cause noticeable hits on even really capable machines. I was a bit surprised at first when the larger open (and more graphically intense) areas performed better than the towns, until I understood why.

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Unfortunately there isn’t a lot that can be done about this for most people. On PC the game ships with DLSS and FSR2 support, so some of the difference can be made up by knocking down resolution and using upscaling in some cases, but in my experience that wasn’t enough to make a noticeable difference unless I was playing with Raytracing enabled. There are some other graphics quality settings you can turn down (mesh density, texture quality, and shadow detail in particular) that can help a little bit as well, but ultimately if you want to hit at least a consistent 30 FPS, you’ll be stuck waiting for Capcom to issue some performance patches, especially if you’re on a console or older PC hardware.

I am lucky enough to be playing on a relatively recent PC with an Intel 12900K, an RTX 3080 Ti, and 32GB of RAM, playing at a resolution of 3440×1440. My experience with the game and its performance has been mostly positive, averaging anywhere from 80-90 FPS in the open world and 60-70 FPS in towns, without tweaking any settings or using DLSS. This is generally lower performance than I get from basically everything else I play, but given the complexity of what’s happening under the hood, I’m okay with this state of things and am hopeful it improves in the near future.

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I feel like even in trying to explain all of the things that have me so excited about Dragon’s Dogma 2, it fails to convey the magic of actually experiencing it. These are just words on your screen, the translation of my excited babbling about some cool shit I did or saw as my best attempt at explaining to you that this game absolutely rules. I’m leaving so much out, forgetting to add so many “oh and this”es, because it’s kind of impossible to actually tell anybody what it’s like to play Dragon’s Dogma 2. Instead, consider this my unequivocal assertion that Dragon’s Dogma 2 is a game that is not just worth your time, but something that you must play so that you can understand how special it is.

Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes